Collaborative Readings #1: Ian Gadd’s “The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online”

We are launching a series of “Collaborative Readings,” borrowing the model popularized so successfully by David Mazella and Carrie Shanafelt on The Long Eighteenth, to discuss some of the items on our bibliography.  “Collaborative Readings” can run concurrently with other postings.

To begin this series, I’ll summarize Ian Gadd’s lucid “The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online,” which argues that using EEBO properly requires an understanding of its evolution and of the evolution of the catalogues on which it relies.  Particularly crucial, Gadd argues, is an understanding of EEBO’s historical reliance on ESTC.

Gadd’s article falls into three parts.  Part 1 describes the three catalogues on which EEBO and ECCO are based: 

  • STC: Pollard and Redgrave’s Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland, and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640
  • WING: Donald Wing’s Short-title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and British America, and of English Books printed in other Countries, 1641-1700
  • ESTC: English Short Title Catalogue, which began its history as The Eighteenth Century Short Title Catalogue, but eventually incorporated material from the previous two catalogues to become The English Short Title Catalogue, retaining its acronym.

Each of these catalogues uses different cataloguing principles and different criteria of inclusion.  The former two differ in what they include, but both catalogue books that have been located (as opposed to copies known to have existed).  The ESTC, on the other hand, began as a computerized and comprehensive union catalogue, merging “together the existing catalogue records of other libraries.”  Because the ESTC includes items in the previous two catalogues, it is, as Gadd puts it,

a hybrid database consisting of three sets of catalogue records, each constructed on different principles.  Searching across these record sets, therefore, poses problems: the unsuspecting student, for example, interested in Stationers’ Company registrations of works might assume that registrations all but dried up after 1640 when in fact this is simply a consequence of information that STC recorded but Wing and ESTC routinely did not.

Part 2 details the evolution of microfilm collections based on these catalogues and their eventual digitization.  Two companies oversaw this process, eventually producing first EEBO then ECCO.

  • UMI: University Microfilms used STC and Wing to produce two series of microfilm collections known as “Early English Books, 1475-1640” and “Early English Books, 1641-1700.”  In 1998, UMI (now ProQuest) digitized copies from these collections to produce EEBO.
  • Research Publications produced a rival microfilm set based on the ESTC.  In 2003, Thomson Gale (now Gale/Cengage) digitized copies from this collection to produce ECCO.

EEBO was permitted to use the bibliographical records of the ESTC, but

it did so for its own purposes: certain categories of data were removed (e.g. collations, Stationers’ Register entrances), some information was amended (e.g. subject headings), and some was added (e.g. microfilm-specific details).

Additionally, there was no formal mechanism for synchronizing the data between the two resources.  Consequently, two divergent holding records exist in EEBO’s and ESTC’s respective catalogues. 

Gadd’s cautionary note pertains to the divergence bewteen these two catalogues:

As both resources continue to amend and expand their bibliographical data for their own purposes, there is an increasing likelihood of significant discrepancy between the two resources. . . . there is no absolute one-to-one correspondence between the pre-1701 entries in ESTC and the materials on EEBO; there are—and will always be—items on ESTC not available on EEBO.

Because different copies in the same edition can vary, there is, Gadd explains,

a vital difference between any single bibliographical record on EEBO and the corresponding ‘image set’: the former describes the particular edition  (or issue), the latter is taken from one copy from that particular edition. Moreover, unlike scholarly facsimile editions, the selection process for microfilming was often arbitrary.  Copies were selected primarily by reference to the copies listed in STC and WING, with particular preference for certain major collections; they were not selected because they were considered representative of a particular edition.

Gadd suggests that EEBO refer to itself as “a library of copies, rather than a catalogue of titles.”

Gadd commends ProQuest for its receptivity toward the scholarly community.  Part 3 briefly reviews ECCO, noting its “underlying text-transcription,” which allows for searches but is flawed by the inaccuracy of the OCR software it uses. 



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16 Responses to “Collaborative Readings #1: Ian Gadd’s “The Use and Misuse of Early English Books Online””

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    One obvious question is whether it might be useful to have the prefatory materials from STC and Wing available online, perhaps even on the ESTC site? At least that way, the information regarding principles of inclusion and cataloguing would be immediately available.


  2. Dave Mazella Says:

    Even better would be to have not just the prefatory materials online, but a comparative table online or printable to show convergences and divergences in these resources, to warn scholars trying to navigate multiple collections. I’ve always felt that it would be great for the institutions with these resources to host an ECCO for beginners and ECCO for advanced students session, or at least develop better resources/tutorials for demonstrating these nuances of the collections. Perhaps a library webpage portal for these would do the trick, licensed for all the people using it at a particular institution?

    My rule of thumb is that if we want the resources to be used, and used well, then we need to train the people to use them in a full and conscious way. Anyone lucky enough to have ECCO at their institution should incorporate it into their information literacy routines in classes and explain some of these ins and outs to students at all levels. DM


  3. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Nicely put. But here we run into Eleanor’s complaint (shared
    by many others) of the death of bibliography courses, where
    we might expect such material to be taught routinely. Even with such
    courses, your point–that we should incorporate instruction of
    these text-bases into classes using them–is exactly right.

    I also like the idea of the table showing divergences.


  4. Dave Mazella Says:

    Well, the issue might be that perhaps the textual editing/bibliography courses are a little like information literacy instruction–teach students the skills at the point of need, not in a separate class. Perhaps the curricular model should be that every class in 18c studies have a bibliography component, and set of assignments, so that this instruction gets integrated into the “content” part of the curriculum. If we move towards a more inquiry- and research-based model, then this might make sense for today’s students, and make us less reliant on a separate class in bibliographic studies, that students may or may not take, anyway. This would be one way of addressing Eleanor’s complaint.



  5. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    My concerns about a decline in bibliographic training referred not merely to a reduction in bibliography and textual studies courses, but rather to a decline in covering such topics in general–and particularly as a component in introductory research and methodology courses for graduate students. Moreover, as many library schools pursue training in information sciences (an understandable and necessary move), it is my sense that fewer and fewer courses are available in library programs in the history of the book–especially the physical properties of books in the hand-press period and related bibliographic matters. About ten years ago I was recruited to teach such a course in an information library science program because the new dean was concerned about this trend;
    I also know of colleagues from literature and history who have taught such courses to graduate students in library school as abbreviated, independent study courses. In other words, my observations are just that—and I would be interested to see if my sense of the situation (outside of programs or tracks that are devoted to working in archives and rare book/special collections) has a firmer basis in studies.

    I mention my impressions about this general decline because of Dave’s suggestion about the library portal–a good idea in many ways but I am not sure who would construct this portal. It would seem to make sense to work on such a portal on a larger scale—and the creation of such a portal could then be augmented/customized by individual institutions. Perhaps one of the results of the two upcoming roundtables would be to form partnerships or have a base of active scholarly consultants who could help in the creation of such a portal that would be standard. At a roundtable at SHARP 2008 in Oxford, scholars and audience members stressed a similar need for more information about the tools, some of the OCR and bibliographic problems, the need for some caveats, and possible suggestions for solutions–Gale and ProQuest were in attendance and obviously had also been giving thought to how to improve their products from the perspective of scholarship. The new interface offered by Gale for ECCO is not really what we are talking about here, but it did come about to help undergraduate students as well as graduate students have a better experience in using the tool.

    On a different note, as Dave has pointed out, tools such as ECCO and EEBO hold much potential to help fulfill the move (supported by administrators, too–which helps) to teach information literacy skills to our students. Many of our pre-1900 courses do incorporate such components—and we also have three undergraduate preparatory courses students take for the major including a course devoted to Historical Contexts, and such databases are used to both teach subject matter and to develop and hone information literacy skills.


  6. Anna Battigelli Says:

    There’s a lot to what you have said, Eleanor. One thing that worries me is the often anemic definition of what passes for “information literacy.” Having a substantive book history/bibliography component to information tech. classes is troubled by the divide between what librarians are trained to do (and do well) and what eighteenth-century scholars are trained to do. We need to make a stronger case for the value of reading eighteenth-century texts and for the correspondent need to train students in how to use EEBO and other text-bases properly.
    And it may be that we need to do this training ourselves.

    Ian’s point–that we can’t really expects students to use EEBO in a functional way without understanding its relationship with ESTC–is a good one, but it involves addressing that divide. Except in rare instances, it seems perilous to assume that an information technology class or module will resolve the issues Ian addresses on its own.


  7. Dave Mazella Says:


    The bib course in grad school was a casualty of the theory boom, but there’s no reason why bibliographic issues couldn’t be integrated into either undergrad or grad courses. In fact, I’m coming to the conclusion that they can become very good ways to teach problem-solving to our students at most levels. I do agree, though, that the big problem with any of these notions of portals etc. is who pays for it, who supports it, etc. So we’re right back to the problems that have haunted academic publishing in the last 10 years.


    I think your qualms about IL training have to do with the fact that IL generally gets taught over and over again at an introductory level by librarians, gets taught narrowly as a skill rather than a way of thinking about information and information-gathering, and is generally isolated from disciplinary knowledge. (this is the subject of an article I’ve been working on)

    What I would recommend is figuring out ways to do more collaborative, advanced, disciplinary level teaching of IL in the context of your course’s research agenda. I’m blessed with a terrific special collections colleague (who’s collaborating with me on the article) and very supportive instructional librarians. So the idea is not to have someone else take care of it in another class, but address the issue as part of a research assignment in your own course, supplemented by advanced IL instruction on the issues you wish to focus upon. This kind of small research assignment takes you away from conventional essay prompts and research essays, but it can be very rewarding for you and the students. They appreciate the fact that they are addressing the real problems that you face in your own research.



  8. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I look forward to reading your article. I agree that only good can come from better collaboration between librarians and professors.

    It’s interesting that we have focused so much on pedagogical issues in these comments.


  9. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I’m wondering how easy it would be to compile a teaching handout addressed to advanced undergrads and grad students on using EEBO. (A separate ECCO guide could follow). Has anyone composed such a guide?


  10. Stephen Karian Says:

    I’ve been following this discussion with interest. I will be part of the ASECS panel in the spring, and look forward to discussing these topics with all of you.

    I think that Gadd’s essay is an excellent place to begin the discussion.

    I’ll hope to contribute something more substantive in the near future, but for now I want to respond to Anna’s latest comment because I have created a guide for my students on how to understand the differences and interconnections among ESTC, EEBO, ECCO, and Google Book Search. I do not go into full detail about how to search full-text in ECCO, and my guide is inadequate in a number of other ways. Nonetheless, I have now made it available to anyone here:

    Click to access Guide%20to%20ESTC.pdf

    I hope it is of interest. Please let me know if you find any errors.



  11. Anna Battigelli Says:


    What a great handout! It very clearly describes the differences between STC, Wing, and ESTC and, best of all, gives students a method for how to locate an ESTC title in EEBO or ECCO.

    If you have other suggestions for how EEBO and ECCO work or don’t work in the classroom, please share them. We will benefit from your expertise.


  12. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Lots to comment on! And many thanks for the excellent guide, Steve. Very helpful and much appreciated. I use ESTC, ECCO, and EEBO, but I had only delivered oral remarks and hands-on demonstrations, but your handout is what is needed.

    As Dave notes, the theory trend was the key factor in the decline of bibliographic training. Some recent graduates of graduate programs (depending on institution and the professor teaching the research and methodologies course as well as the period in which one is specializing) will have still had this training, but I also see that the decline has resulted in fewer newly minted PhDs being knowledgeable or as knowledgeable about such issues. The library shift, in contrast, is almost certainly a product of the digital/electronic changes we are experiencing. If I am not mistaken (memory a bit foggy here), a few years ago ALA developed a special program to attract Ph.D. in the humanities to work in academic libraries and special collections because of concern that more specialized knowledge was needed in subject areas, in part because of an emphasis on information sciences.

    That said, I definitely agree that we can incorporate these tools at all levels into our courses–and I have done so. I just expanded a piece based on a paper I gave at EC/ASECS on teaching with these tools for Jim May’s Intelligencer (there were four of us on the panel–and Jim did have some concerns about space–he might break the pieces up over two issues–and he might need to cut). (For one course, I constructed a handout that serves as a selected illustrated glossary to physical/digital features students will encounter in examining either the digitized or 18th-century original text–catchwords, etc., but Steve’s handout would have been a big help.). I am very much looking forward to reading your article, Dave, when it appears. I also agree with you that it is important not to hand IL training over to a third party (be that the library or 1st-year comp courses); instead, best to incorporate such lessons within one’s own course/research projects as well as partner with a librarian when possible.

    And, Anna, it is interesting how we have ended up discussing pedagogical issues. Do you think perhaps this emphasis is due in part because teaching with these tools help us to uncover unspoken assumptions/knowledge we have and/or helps us see these tools in fresh ways (warts and all!)?


  13. Anna Battigelli Says:

    These text-bases are goldmines, but they also force us to consider what they don’t reveal: format, bindings, marginal comments, signatures, and so forth. It surprises me that the more I use digital databases, the more interested I am in books as material artifacts. These databases are tremendous teaching resources, but they also force me to ask how well they function as introductions to late 17th- and 18th-century books. I think they function very well, so long as we teach students how to use them. This is Ian Gadd’s point, I think, though he doesn’t address pedagogy directly. Steve’s handout and your idea of an illustrated glossary are exactly the kinds of things needed.

    Will your article in the Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer discuss your glossary?


  14. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    My piece in the Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer does discuss the glossary. The glossary is also slated to be included in an appendix (either in an abbreviated form or its entirety–the handout was only five pages, and I will be expanding it for future classes). That the glossary (probably in a partial selection of entries) will be published is the only reason I have not attached it here. I should note that the courses I discuss are both undergraduate ones.

    I also discuss some in-class exercises that served several purposes: familiarizing students with ECCO, developing IL skills, and enhancing student understanding of cultural contexts.

    Ian’s article is a reminder to us all (in terms of our own work as well as our work with students) of the importance of understanding these databases, their histories, and their strengths and shortcomings.


  15. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Eleanor, I look forward to reading your Eighteenth-Century
    Intelligencer article. Once that volume is out, it may be
    helpful to discuss its articles on this blog and
    list them in our bibliography. When will that volume be out?

    I would distribute Ian’s supremely lucid article in any course I
    taught that used EEBO.



  16. Bibliography: An Endangered Skill? « Early Modern Online Bibliography Says:

    […] bibliographic knowledge and electronic resources such as EEBO, ECCO, and Burney. (See for instance the discussion that emerged in the collaborative reading of Ian’s Gadd’s “The Use and Misuse of […]


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